Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress in Sri Lanka. The term ‘Sigiriya’ itself in Sinhalese means Lion’s rock. Not just this, Sigiriya is one of the World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka today owing to the sheer architecture, planning, palace ruins, paintings and a mirror to the Ceylon civilization in the 5th century.
It is believed that King Kashyapa in AD 477 built this structure atop a hardened rock formed due to an old volcanic eruption. All the gardens, walls, paintings and other structures were also planned by this king since he used it for his stay. After his death, Sigiriya was used as a Buddhist monastery and later has turned into a tourist destination.
The history of Sigirya dates back to 477 AD when King Dhatusena’s son (through a non-royal consort) King Kashyapa tried to seize the throne for his selfish interest and also tried to kill the rightful heir to the throne, his step brother Moggallana thus making him flee. However fearing future attack from Moggallana, King Kashyapa built a huge palace on the Sigiriya rock thus shifting the capital of the kingdom from Anuradhapura. He also built other huge structures which not only gave the palace protection from invaders but also gave its residents all the luxuries they wanted. The poems inscribed on the walls of the palace ruins and the rock are known as Sigiriya graffiti and convey the happenings in this time of history. King Kashyapa was defeated in 495 AD and the capital was once again shifted to Anuradhapura by Moggallana and the Sigiriya palace was transformed into a Buddhist monastery until the 13th century.
Sigiriya stands for extensive planning and the best urban sites of the first millennium. Sigiriya contained water gardens, frescoes (ancient paintings), the mirror wall, poems known as Sigiriya graffiti and the summit.
Water gardens: The water gardens are built in such a way that they can be viewed in full beauty from atop the Sigiriya rock. The gardens are planned in such a way that a perfect underground water distribution system runs through providing water for daily requirements in the palace atop Sigiriya rock as well as providing water for the fountains and taps likewise. There are various moats, ponds and other water structures throughout and some fountains still work till date.
Frescoes: The frescoes or ancient paintings done in the Anuradhapura period have a distinct style and rich colors in them. The paintings mainly consist of upto 500 ladies’ portrait which are by far considered as the most beautiful rendition of women and have been compared to Ajantha Caves in India. The frescoes are mainly visible in the western portion of the Sigiriya rock and almost a majority of them have been wiped out by time. One can still catch a glimpse of these beautiful frescoes.
The Mirror wall: The most striking feature of the Sigiriya is the Mirror wall. As the name suggests the mirror wall was basically made of porcelain and was situated along the king’s walkway throughout the palace and the road leading from the foot of Sigiriya to the palace. This wall was so well polished that the King could see his reflection in it very clearly and hence the name. This suggests how advanced the technology of construction was in those days and the kind of skilled labor that King Kashyapa had. Evr since it became open to public, the Mirror wall has been subject to damage as visitors keep scribbling on it and this finally led the archaeological department to put a ban on writing on the wall.
The Lion platform: The Sigiriya was designed in such a way that entry to the palace would be between the Lion’s paws and into the mouth of the Lion. The pathway or the flight of stairs leads into a platform on the northern side of the rock which is how the name Sigiriya (Lion’s rock) came into use.
The gardens: The boulder gardens and the terrace gardens are the notable features of Sigiriya. The boulder gardens for example were a series of boulders which were linked with pathways. Each of these boulders consisted of a pavilion or building on it and the boulder itself contained steps to get onto and out of the boulders. The largest boulder in this garden contained a granite throne on which the King sat and this served as a meeting hall for his people and commoners. The terrace gardens are simply a series of terraces connecting each other and built by brick walls. These connect the pathway of stairs below and the palace above.
The Summit: The summit is basically the overview of the Sigiriya rock, palace, gardens and other structures present. This is such a breathtaking view that it shows that the Sigiriya palace would have been built to satiate the King’s hunger for art and style of living. The King’s throne atop the hill is also built such that it faces the rising sun.